The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 2)

Part Two of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.


Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10 (NRSV)

Pharaoh is desperate to get this population under control before they take over everything, so he deploys plan A.  He enslaves the Hebrews and tries to basically get the population under control by working them to death.  Even with the harsh and grueling working conditions, the Hebrew people continue to grow.  Is this God’s providential hand we are seeing at work here?  When the powers of earth try to subdue his people, God continues to work behind the scenes to allow the people of God to grow.   He is building a nation out of the nomadic tribe of Israel.

Realizing Plan A has failed, Pharaoh moves on to Plan B.  This plan is a lot more devious.  If Pharaoh can’t subdue the population by working them to death, he will cut off the population before they have a chance to grow!  In verse 16 we read, “when you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.   The midwives are to help birth the baby, then somehow end the baby’s life should he happen to be male while they are cleaning him up after birth.  To cover this up they are to present him back to his parents as if he had not survived the birth or died as a complication of the birth.

Here is where we meet the first two of the Moses Five.  We are given their names in verse 15.  Shiphrah and Puah.  These women were not the only two midwives to the Hebrews, but they were most likely the heads of groups of midwives.

They are also most likely not Hebrews, but Egyptian women.  The text doesn’t tell us a whole lot about them. However, I think it would be safe to conclude these women are indeed Egyptian – why would the Pharaoh instruct Hebrew women to kill their own race?  He gives this order to Egyptian women because he feels he commands their loyalty.

Verse 17 tells us, “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.  Regardless of their nationality, these women make their living bringing life into the world, not taking life out of the world.  Whether Egyptian or Hebrew, these women know the God of Israel and they know that the order of Pharaoh to kill the innocent baby boys is wrong.  They knowingly choose to ignore his command.  Shiphrah and Puah know that eventually Pharaoh will most likely catch on to the fact that they are disobeying his command, but defiantly continue on with birthing Hebrew children rather than killing them.  Despite the consequences to themselves, they choose what is right and thereby choose to willingly serve God.


We are given the outcome of their choices in verses 18-21: “So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

With Plan A to kill the Hebrews by working them to death a failure, and Plan B to have the midwives secretly kill off all male babies a disaster, Pharaoh now moves on to Plan C.  This is his boldest plan yet, and throws caution to the wind.  It is no longer a secret that Pharaoh wants to control the population size of the Hebrews but public knowledge.  Pharaoh calls on all of his subjects in the final verse of chapter one of the book of Exodus, Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.

It is in this political climate that Jochebed, the third of the Moses 5, finds herself pregnant for a third time.  She already has a daughter as well as a son who is around the age of three.  Jochebed must go through this pregnancy hearing the sounds of death patrol squads that are seeking out baby boys and tossing them to their deaths in the Nile River.  Does she hope for a girl?  Does she fear for a boy and cry out to God to protect her unborn child by making this child a girl?  The text doesn’t tell us.  Chapter two of the book of Exodus begins: Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months…”  What it does tell us is that the third child was indeed a boy.  And there was something special about him.

All new parents think their baby is the most precious baby ever born, but the word in the original language of the text tells us that what Jochebed sees is something more.  Somehow, she sees her child is marked for special work for God.

The word used for fine here is “tov”.  We hear that word still today in Jewish toasts of mazel tov!  Tov, which is translated as good or fine, is the same word that is used in the description of the creation in Genesis.

Filled with the defiant, protective love of a mother, and filled with trust in her God, Jochebed manages to hide her new born child for three months!  Perhaps she received some inspiration and support for the civilly disobedient midwives.  Can you imagine how hard this would be to do in such close quarters as the Hebrew slaves most likely lived in?  How do you hide or muffle the loud cries of a baby that is hungry or tired?  Scriptures don’t tell us how, just that she did.  Again, we see the hand of God in the midst of all of this bringing about HIS will.  She is willing to risk everything, her life and the lives of her family, to do what is right.


If you enjoyed Part Two, please visit next week for Part 3.  If you missed Part One it can be found here.

 

The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 1)

Part One of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.


Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10(NRSV)

Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to realize you are a persona non-grata where you live.  You are an alien living in a foreign land among people that consider you less than them.  You have no country to call your own.

Now, imagine you are this same person, and the citizens of the country you live in not only dislike you, but are also afraid of you and fearful of your husbands and sons.  You live in constant fear for the safety of yourself, your husband, and especially your children.

Then you find out you are pregnant again!  Something that should be cause for great joy is marred by great fear. You have little time for celebration as you are already worried about how to protect your child from the society you live in from the very first moment after giving birth.

I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty scared if I were to find myself in this situation.  I can only imagine that this must be exactly the way that Jochebed felt when she discovered she was pregnant for a third time.  Are you familiar with this name?

Jochebed’s story is found in the book of Exodus, where we are introduced to her as the mother of Moses.  She is a person of little importance, but she finds herself caught up in the story of God’s redemption for the people of Israel.  Through Jochebed’s willing obedience and faith in the God of Israel, her actions were instrumental in the protection of her son Moses.  That protection would allow for a great leader of the Exodus to reach adulthood.

But she was not alone in doing this.  It took five strong, courageous women, the Moses Five, to love, teach and raise Moses and ensure that he would survive his childhood.  A childhood that was stacked against his survival.  Women who lived lives of defiant love.


How did Jochebed and the Children of Israel find themselves in this rather scary place?  I believe we need to turn back a little in our Bibles.  Back to where it all begins with a covenant made with Abraham.

In Genesis 15 we find that God is making a promise to Abraham.   His descendants, that would start with his own child that he and Sarah will have together, will be as numerous as the stars.  But this promise is also followed by a prophecy.  In Genesis 15:12-15 we read, As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.    And God is faithful to his word.  He always follows through with his promises.

I’m sure most of us are pretty familiar with the story from here.  Abraham’s son is Isaac, whose son is Jacob.  Jacob has several sons, but one of them becomes prominent and given a powerful position in the government of the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Joseph, who was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, finds himself in the land of Egypt.  But God uses this for good.  In the closing chapters of Genesis, peace has been restored within the family and forgiveness extended from Joseph to his brothers. All of the house of Jacob come to Egypt to live in this foreign land with Joseph in order to escape a famine in their own country.  All is well for the descendants of Abraham…

Remember the prophecy made to Abraham?  The one about 400 years of slavery in a foreign land?  In Exodus 1:5-14 we see,

The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation.  But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.  Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.”

While there is some debate between scholars as to whether the 400-year timeline begins with Ismael persecuting Isaac when he is five or begins with the time of Jacob and his family going to Egypt, in these passages, we see clearly the prophecy coming true.  The new Pharaoh has forgotten the favor shown to Joseph and his family.

Not only has he forgotten this, but the sheer number of Israelites are making him nervous.  The original seventy Israelites that made up the number of Jacob’s family that immigrated to Egypt has exploded to a population of several hundred thousand!


If you enjoyed Part One, please visit next week for Part Two.

 

Evangelism & Human Longing

To always be relevant, you have to say things that are eternal. –Simone Weil

Relevance was a trendy word in the church a few years ago.  There was a stampede towards making churches hip and tech-savvy. Now the pendulum has swung the other way.  Authenticity is ‘in’ and the more ‘traditional’ model is being heralded as the church of the future.  Detailed statistics are used to explain whichever direction the millennials or Generation X, Y and Z are heading –in most cases, right out the church door.  While cultural and demographic studies have their place, the church that chases relevance (or authenticity) will forever be chasing a constantly-shifting illusion.  

Scripture offers us an alternative to chasing fads.  In John 4 we catch a unique glimpse of Jesus’ methods of evangelism.  Instead of relying on culture to define his mission or methods, Jesus taps into the timeless longings that spring from every human heart.

Now he had to go through Samaria… Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about noon when a Samaritan woman came to draw water. John 4:4,6-7

Awkward hardly begins to describe this scene.  Wells were the nightclubs of the Middle East where men and women would meet.  Jacob and Moses had both met their wives at wells.  Here was a lone man and lone woman together without another person in sight. To add to the intrigue, Jesus and this woman could not have been more different.  Jesus was a Jew, a man and a religious teacher. 

She was Samaritan and a woman barely hanging on to the fringe of social respectability.

John mentions that it was the hottest time of day (noon). Jacob’s well sits a considerable distance from the town.  Bible commentators say there were at least two closer wells.  It did not take a genius to put two and two together. Here was a woman who was purposefully trying to avoid running into anyone she knew.  Her goal was to get her water and get back home –back to being invisible.

Jesus notices her and asks:  “Would you give me a drink?”

Jesus’ request is shocking on two levels.  First, Jesus intentionally places himself in a position of need from this Samaritan woman.  She holds the jug and the means of drawing water. She has the power to grant his request or walk away. Jesus surrenders any moral high-ground that might be associated with his birth or station in life (as a male, a Jew and a religious moral teacher) and puts her in control of the interaction.

Secondly, most Jews would have preferred to die of thirst than to beg water from a half-breed Samaritan.  Jesus is violating a number of social taboos –a fact the woman is quick to point out (v. 9).  Yet Jesus brushes aside the social conventions of status, racial prejudice and sexual inequality that separate them.  Jesus talks to her as a valued person.  

Jesus invites her into honest, open dialog on equal footing.

The Samaritan woman turns out to be a worthy opponent.  She dodges, evades and parries like a pro.  She attempts to bait Jesus into a theological standoff (v. 20). Interestingly, Jesus does not seem deterred by her skepticism.  If anything, he seems to welcomes her intellectual engagement and religious objections.  

Throughout their discourse, Jesus does not lose sight of what is ultimately at stake. He keeps bringing the conversation back to living water.  For the Samaritan woman, the necessity of water -and her foray to retrieve it- was a daily reminder of her very public shame.  Jesus turns the symbol of her shame –her need for water- into the source of her redemption.  

In the end, it is not Jesus’ correct theological responses that win her over, but his value of her.

The change is remarkable and immediate.  She rushes back to town. This woman, who only moments before had been so carefully to avoid public attention, is now proclaiming to the entire town:  “Come and see the man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this man be the Christ?” (v. 29) Jesus has not only transformed her perception of herself but also transformed her relationship to her community.  The social conventions that designated her as an outsider, no longer seem significant.  She is already accepted.  She wastes no time in sharing the source of her joy.  

Cultural trends and demographic studies have their value in today’s church.  Yet, constantly changing cultural trends require ever-evolving strategies. It becomes a problem when cultural trends become the primary tool for church evangelism.

Jesus taps into the timeless universal longings that spring from every human heart. 

Jesus was acutely perceptive to the cultural trends and complexities of his day.  Yet at no point does he allow culture to define his mission or his methods.  If anything, Jesus’ methods fly in the face of the status quo. Jesus intentionally seeks out those on the margins of society –the mentally ill, the socially ostracized and the morally compromised. His message does not rely on slick gospel presentations or cultural trends.  Instead Jesus taps into the timeless universal longings that spring from every human heart –the need for love, forgiveness and belonging.   Two thousand years later, those needs remain the same.  

Writing, Preaching, and Teaching

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;  ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8, NRSV)

 

The twists and turns that come up on the journey of life are always surprising.

It isn’t like the new cars of today that have the sensors all around them that start flashing lights and talking to you warning you of things that are coming.  Wouldn’t it be great if humans were equipped with this capability?  To be able to prepare and be proactive rather than reactive?  But alas, God our creator didn’t see any need to add this feature to our design.

So, surprises must be a required part of our journeys.

For me the surprise twist in my road seems to be that God has been using me to preach.

Me!

A woman.

A relatively new Anabaptist.

Never in a million years would I have expected this.  In fact, over the years, I have been adamant that I could never be a preacher and had no desire to give a sermon….EVER! Yet here I am, preparing to start writing my sixth sermon message in seven months and plans for a seventh one to be given in May.

Our God works in very mysterious ways indeed!

When I first began to feel that God was calling me to change and to begin something new I was excited. All indications seemed to point to being a writer.  This all seemed very romantic to me as I recalled all of my childhood literary heroines.  It was like being invited to join the ranks of Laura Ingalls, Jo March and Anne Shirley!  As a result, Wisdom Wanderings was born!

It was this urge to write that led me to become a C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow.

I entered into that year of intentional discipleship expecting to learn more about myself and to also gain a firmer understanding of my faith, what I believe, and who I am as a child of God.  All of these possibilities excited me and I just KNEW I would come out of that year of study a better, more competent writer.

It doesn’t surprise me that all of these expectations were the outcome – I do have a firmer understanding of what I believe and a much deeper faith – but I am very surprised that the writing I am doing the most of since completing year one of my fellowship time is sermon writing!

Not blog posts.

Not magazine articles.

Not a bestselling book helping others to find the deeper faith that I did….Sermon writing.

All of this sermon writing has me wondering where this road is going to.  Again, there is no sensor to give me any indications of what is coming.

It would seem that a perfect storm of events, a.k.a God’s timing, has placed me in a church that is currently seeking a new pastor.  This vacancy has given me the opportunity to preach occasionally.  However, we will eventually find a pastor, and that leads my mind to wondering what comes next for me?

God always has a purpose.  This time of sermon writing and giving are preparing me for something.  Only time will tell what God is currently equipping me for.

Could there really be a future for me in some kind of preaching or teaching capacity?  I can’t in the foreseeable future see any opportunities for either preaching or teaching outside of my own church.  God works in mysterious ways and in his own perfect timing.

In the end, all I can do is continue on as God’s disciple.  When he calls me I will answer with the words of Isaiah:   “Here I am, send me!”

Although preaching and teachings God’s word from a pulpit weren’t a part of my plans, they seem to be part of God’s plan for me.  To truly be his disciple I must heed the call and follow his plans rather than my own.  After all, his are always infinitely better!  I will continue to trust and hold on as I come around the next bend in my life and be willing to be open to whatever God has around that bend for me.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, NRSV)

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Who Is My Neighbor

 “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, NRSV)

Amid all of the turmoil and news that has been inundating me these past few weeks, I received a Facebook invitation to an event.  It was sent to me by one of the gentleman I attend church with and would be taking place in Akron, OH.

What was this event?  It was for a 48-hour prayer vigil being held by World Relief Akron.  The purpose of prayer? Intercession for refugees and immigrant families as our new administration tries to figure out how it would like to handle new refugees coming to the United States.

Initially I didn’t think much about this invite other than giving it a passing glance.  We have all been inundated with news stories and events and conversations on social media regarding the refugee crisis, especially in Syria.  I just couldn’t at that particular moment absorb one more thought on the matter.

I have been seeing stories and posts from groups and people who were all for a refugee ban and their reasons for supporting legislation that would enforce this.

I have seen just as many stories and posts from groups and people who are against any measures that would prevent refugees from coming to the U.S. and their reasons for believing to not allow refugees and immigrants is wrong.

We continue to witness the clashes between these two groups on television, in public conversations, and on social media.  So, when this particular invite notification arrived I chose to ignore it for the sake of preserving my sanity.

I began to feel as if God was telling me to reassess that invite, and to take a second look at it.  It felt as if this was something I needed to attend.

Prior to this event I have never attended anything like this outside.  I have never been part of a march or held a picket sign for peace, or other similar activities that a lot of the Anabaptist community have taken part in over the years for peace and social justice causes.  So, it was with some trepidation that I set out with a couple from my church this past Sunday afternoon.

Fear, I must confess, was one of the things I was feeling.  Fear that with all of the emotions that have been running so high in our society that some violence might come from groups that opposed refugees.  Perhaps it was a little over dramatic on my part, but I wondered if I would be somehow harmed in some way while there.

Isn’t that funny and awful at the same time?  I was feeling sorry for myself that God was telling me to attend a prayer vigil and feeling fearful about going at the same time.

The very refugees that I was going to pray for are facing real dangers EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!  Especially the women and children!  People that are stuck with no country to call their own and no idea of where they will be ending up.

My fears (unfounded as they were) almost prevented me from going.  I needed to set them aside and trust in God.  This was the lesson given to me to learn.

In a coffee shop that was in the middle of being remodeled, a small group of strangers gathered together in Akron, OH.  People of different denominations, backgrounds, and beliefs bowed their heads together in prayer.

Prayers for safety for refugees.  Prayers for the heartaches being felt by families who have been torn apart and separated.  Prayers for mommas who are desperately trying to provide shelter, food, and clothing for their little ones the world over.  And prayers for the immigrants who are already living in our communities that they may find acceptance and love here.

Human beings united in the common cause of praying for other human beings.

Should refugees be allowed to come to the United States whether they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.?  Should there be a limit to the number who can come?  Should they not be allowed to come at all?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions or any solutions for how to fix these real problems that are affecting very real people.   What I do know is that I can continue to do something.  I can pray for all the people who find themselves stuck as refugees and also for immigrants who are just trying to find a new way of life in a strange place.

Somewhere there is a new home for these people.  I can pray that they find safety and a place to begin again.  But most importantly, that they can begin to find peace and healing.

My neighbor isn’t a specific race or religion.

My neighbor doesn’t just live in just the houses around mine.

My neighbor is everyone.

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  ( Luke 10:30-37, NRSV)